Sunday, January 15, 2012

Glorified pitchforks capable of breaking any kind of soil

Hello fellow guerilla growers, and Happy New Year 2012!

Ever come across what could be called your "dream" guerilla gardening area. Almost inaccessible, lots of cover camouflage, short trees, and maybe even a water supply close by? The only problem being is that the soil in the area is hard-packed, almost like concrete...filled with rocks and tree roots, and completely overgrown with a thick layer of three foot tall wild grasses, brush, and small bushes. When the guerilla grower attempts to break up this soil, the only thing that gets broken up is the guerilla growers hands, and tools! Soil like this will quickly break a tool with a wooden or fiberglass handle, including shovels, and "normal" pitchforks.

Do not even think about using a small, "army shovel" to dig out an area like this, as your hands and wrists will quickly be beaten to a pulp by the hard-rock conditions. Pickaxes, root grubbing tools, and root jacks can be used to clear the area of vegetation before the actual digging gets started. The problem with using a pickaxe is the leverage problem; a pickaxe has to be lifted over the head, and swung forcibly into the earth to break it up, and just wait until you swing that thing and hit a rock; the shock wave travels through your entire body, causing pain and injury. This happens a lot when digging in rocky soil, but is almost unavoidable if you have some very hard packed soil to break up. After the soil is broken into chunks, a shovel is used to scoop the material out of the hole. Unless you are used to swinging a pickaxe daily, you will find out what real pain is when you wake up the morning after digging out a garden. Your hands will be filled with blisters (even if you were wearing gloves) and your back will feel like it is broken. Good luck trying to crawl out of bed!

Think back to the early pioneers and farmers; they had to use a sharpened, steel plow, pulled along by a mule or a pack horse, to break ground like this into narrow rows, usually to a depth of no more than six to eight inches. Even with a horse doing all of the work, it would take the farmer many days, even weeks, to break up a small, previously undisturbed, patch of earth. The guerilla grower wants to dig down to at least 12 inches, preferably 18, when setting up the garden site. Breaking up a rock hard soil like this requires a high-quality tool, preferably constructed of steel alloy, or steel tubing, that has been properly welded together into an almost indestructable, solid steel assembly.

I started my growing career in the rocky, root-filled soils of the Klamath national forest, located near the town of Happy Camp in northern Cali. In the few years that I cultivated marijuana out there, guerilla style, I have broken up more undisturbed, rocky, root-filled ground, than I even care to recollect. After a couple of years of this torture, my hands were rock hard, capable of breaking someone's arm by simply hitting it (I practice a lot of chinese style martial arts where the first move is arm to arm contact (tiger form Shaolin), breaking the opponents arm right off of the bat...fight over). Even the hand and arm conditioning drills that we did under my chinese master did not compare to the beating that my hands took from all of that digging.

All of this changed when I realized that there must be someone out there who has gone through the same type of sod-busting experiences, but with mainstream farming techniques. Why reinvent the wheel? Marijuana cultivation uses the same techniques as mainstream farming, so I inquired to the professionals, figuring that these people had probably already developed the heavy duty hand tools needed for this type of task before farm automation, gas engines, and tractors came along. After a little bit of research (and this was 1985 or so, which meant no internet!) I learned about Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, located about 50 miles south of Happy Camp in Grass Valley, California. These guys were the masters when it came to organic gardening techniques, supplies, tools, chemicals, and organic amendments, and they definitely had a couple of heavy-duty, welded-steel, digging implements in stock, including:

The Deep Spader, a glorified, heavy duty pitchfork, which has been called the "heavyweight champion of forks" in the organic gardening community. The deep Spader is a super strong, four tine pitchfork, capable of breaking up the soil to a depth of 16 inches in one stroke. Digging a garden out to this depth allows your cannabis plants roots to reach deeper into the ground in search of food and moisture. The deep spader is perfect for the concerned organic gardener, since it breaks up, rather than overturns, the soil. This means that the rich, organic matter, found in the first two inches of soil, stays in place, instead of being mixed throughout, and buried under, the rest of the overturned soil. The deep spader is constructed of corrosion resistant, pointed steel tines, that are sixteen inches in length. These tines are welded to an eighteen inch wide, tubular steel crossbar, which contains a fitting for attaching a heavy-duty steel handle. The recommended handle is a 40 inch length of one-inch pipe, which bolts to the crossbar.

Since you add the handle, different lengths of pipe can be used when more leverage is needed: the longer the pipe, the more prying power available for those cement-hard, rocky soils. The deep spader is not designed for breaking rock and prying, but more for digging and aeration purposes, although it will handle these chores if that is what you choose it for. I use it to push through the soil as deep as possible, and then rock it back and forth, loosening it up for the spud bar or pickaxe. When a rock is hit, the spud bar, or the pick, is used to "pop" it out of the ground. A thick root will require a pickaxe, or even a cutter mattock (see prior blog posts) to cut it off at the ends and pop it out of the ground.

The price for a steel deep spader (handle not included) at Peaceful Valley is $229.00 plus shipping from California. This is a high-quality, professional tool, and it is very much worth the price for the amount of hard work, and broken backs, that it will save you from.

Next, we have the Broadfork: essentially a set of pointed, tubular, steel tines, welded to a heavy-duty steel crossbar. The old school tool was the Glaser Bio-Fork, an all steel broadfork, with detatchable tines for the lawn and garden. The bio fork part is still sold here and there, but the author could not find the tines available for sale anywhere on the net. Peaceful Valley has started carrying the "Valley Oak Broadfork", with five, twelve-inch tines, and two, inch and a half diameter post hole digger handles. The post hole digger handles are tough, and they are used because they are easily replaceable. The price is $200, plus shipping, from California.

The state of the art broadfork these days is the Gulland Broadfork, featuring five, nine inch long tines, and two, heavy-duty ash handles. Dual handles are used to increase leverage even further. The crossbar is twenty inches wide. This is a very heavy duty tool, manufactured by a blacksmith whose goal was to manufacture a broadfork that would last for years. Even better, it only costs $185 plus $25 shipping.